What’s the Difference Between Screen Printing and Heat Transfer Printing?

Custom printed garments like a t-shirt, a tote bag, or sports jerseys are a great way to make a personal statement and own a truly personalized product. There are two main methods of printing used to create custom garments: screen printing and heat transfer printing. While each method is relatively simple and widely available from quality printing companies that specialize in custom garments like R&P Prints, the two methods have distinct differences and their own set of costs and benefits.

Screen printing has been around for centuries. Invented over 1,000 years ago in China, screen printing involves an actual screen that is cut into a stencil design, which is then laid over a garment for ink to be applied to it. Multiple screens can be used if multiple colours or separate layers in the design are required. Screen printing is one of the most common printing methods in use today due to a few factors.

Screen printing is incredibly versatile. Almost any design can be printed in high quality and detail using screen printing, and where the real value of screen printing comes from is in the scalability of it. The cost of printing a garment using screen printing dramatically decreases as the lot size increases. If you’re looking to print a lot of custom t-shirts, screen printing is the most economical choice for you.

Heat transfer is a newer printing technology. It started out with a cut-out vinyl design being ironed on to a t-shirt, but the technology has since made the jump to digital. The basic mechanism of how heat transfer is accomplished is the same regardless of how advanced the technology is. Heat transfer involves a customized vinyl design (or a customized digital design if you’re using a more advanced printer), a blank garment, and the adhesion of the two using a combination of both heat and pressure using a heat press. If the vinyl design involves multiple colours, multiple layers of vinyl will need to be stacked on top of each other, colour by colour. Digital designs can be printed all at once.

Heat transfer, whether digital or vinyl, is best used for small batches of printing, so if you’re printing a one-of-a-kind design for yourself or as a gift, heat transfer printing is probably your best choice. The cost per unit is relatively low when compared to screen printing at a small scale, but the major drawback of heat transfer printing is that it doesn’t scale well, regardless of whether you’re printing vinyl or digital. Digital heat transfer also has the advantage of being able to produce more vibrant colours – some digital printers can achieve 10,000,000 different shades of colours.

At the end of the day, you’re not going to compromise quality whether you choose heat transfer or screen printing; it all comes down to your lot size. The most important factor is choosing a high quality printing company. Contact R&P Prints to get a free quote on your next custom printing project.